Wednesday, June 18, 2014

How Not to Address Pro-Choice Arguments in 1,000 Words [Clinton Wilcox]

There's a video on YouTube that claims to be able to destroy "pro-abortion" arguments in two minutes by vlogger Buster Stein. I believe that we should be making the best arguments we can for the pro-life position, and responding adequately to the best arguments from the pro-choice side. Unfortunately Mr. Stein here does neither of those two things. Despite the title of his video, he doesn't address a single pro-choice argument nor does he make a very compelling case for the pro-life position. Stein's pro-life arguments are just taken from internet memes that you see floating around Facebook, but as is the case with memes they make lousy arguments. Additionally, his entire video is spent making a positive case, defending the pro-life position, instead of making a negative case, responding to pro-choice arguments against the pro-life position. Let's take a look at his arguments.

"If we're considered dead when our heart stops beating, shouldn't we be considered alive when it starts?"

Sure, but what about before that? Does Stein believe human life begins when the heart starts beating? My guess would be no. So why is he using this argument? Human life starts at fertilization. Once the heart starts beating it is required to keep you alive. But before that point, you are able to survive without a heart. Besides, as Dr. Maureen Condic has written in her essay "Life: Defining the Beginning by the End," it's not brain death or when the heart stops beating that determines true death. It is when your cells stop communicating with each other. She writes, "The medical and legal definition of death draws a clear distinction between living cells and living organisms. Organisms are living beings composed of parts that have separate but mutually dependent functions. While organisms are made of living cells, living cells themselves do not necessarily constitute an organism. The critical difference between a collection of cells and a living organism is the ability of an organism to act in a coordinated manner for the continued health and maintenance of the body as a whole. It is precisely this ability that breaks down at the moment of death, however death might occur. Dead bodies may have plenty of live cells, but their cells no longer function together in a coordinated manner." This is what happens at the moment of death, and this is what determines when you are truly dead. You may irreversibly lose the ability to function as a person when your brain dies or your heart stops, but it is the ability for your cells to act as an integrated whole that determine whether an organism is alive. So if we want to take a symmetrical view to human life, if our cells stop communicating when we die, then when our cells start communicating as an integrated whole (which happens at fertilization) is when we should be considered alive.

Even aside from the symmetrical view, there are reasons to know that the unborn are living organisms: They metabolize food for energy, they respond to stimuli, and they grow through cellular reproduction. So Stein is correct that the question is are the unborn alive, but he is using a bad argument to get himself there. Aside from that, everyone agrees that abortion kills something. What is at issue at the abortion issue is: are unborn human beings things that are morally permissible to kill? In that respect, Stein has not addressed this pro-choice argument.

"The same people who are for abortion have already been born."

This is a fair point, attributed originally to Ronald Reagan. It's true that no one advocates for their own people group to be killed. But again, this doesn't respond to pro-choice arguments. This is a pro-life argument of its own.

"Eagle eggs, unborn eagles, are protected whereas unborn humans are not."

This is another bad meme argument. Eagle eggs are protected because eagles are an endangered species. Chicken eggs are not protected. If the human race was on the verge of extinction, I think it's entirely possible that our government would outlaw abortion to attempt to get our population numbers back up.

Conversely, it's also true that many people care more about animals than they do human beings. This is a confusion, of course, as there are many reasons to think that human beings are intrinsically valuable whereas animals are not. In fact, many people who believe this way have probably been hurt by people in the past. But someone can believe both that it is wrong to kill animals and that it is wrong to kill unborn human children.

"People are concerned about the right to choose, but the right to choose what? Murder?"

This is a question-begging statement, as he hasn't made the case that abortion is murder. People who are pro-choice are not advocating for the right to choose murder because they don't believe that abortion is murder. You need to have that discussion, first.

Also, it's excellent that he points out that we're not trying to condemn women who have had abortion. Massive brownie points for that.

"These children deserve a destiny and a future."

This is one of the better statements he makes in the video, especially since a very similar argument has been expounded by philosopher Don Marquis. But unfortunately, he doesn't go into detail regarding their right to their future.

So I appreciate Buster Stein's enthusiasm and his desire to talk about the issue. The problem is that he's not using the best arguments that he can to defend his position, and a thoughtful pro-choice person won't be convinced by them.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Who is the Subject of Our Experiences? [Clinton Wilcox]

Allons-y!* Yes, it's high time I out myself as a huge nerd. Last night I attended a screening of the two-part Doctor Who adventure, "Rise of the Cybermen" and "The Age of Steel," seamlessly combined to make a feature film. It was glorious. Now, I know that science fiction is not what the "cool kids" watch, but it really does offer a great medium for exploring philosophical questions, especially in areas like personal identity and the philosophy of mind. Even many analogies surrounding the abortion issue are science fiction scenario (e.g. Thomson's violinist and Warren's captured astronaut).

This episode is one that should seem familiar to veterans of science fiction: The Doctor and his two companions, Rose and Mickey, find themselves trapped in a parallel universe, on an Earth that is very much like their own but with minor variations. On this parallel earth, a man by the name of John Lumic and his staff have created a race of cybernetic creatures as a way to transplant his own brain (and the brains of everyone on Earth) into an immortal body. Of course this makes the President of England (parallel Earth, remember?) uncomfortable, and he denies allowing the project to go forward. In a fit of rage, Lumic unleashes the Cybermen on the people of London, forcing them to surrender for "upgrade" or be exterminated.

Personal identity and personhood tend to be a favorite subject for science fiction franchises. Like the Borg of Star Trek fame, human beings are turned into cybernetic beings. But unlike the Borg, in which the organic parts of the person assimilated remain largely intact, to upload someone's brain into a Cyberman, the organic body must be destroyed and the brain is transplanted into the cybernetic body. Supposedly their identity remains intact, though there is a chip that suppresses their emotions so that they can kill without remorse and not be troubled by the new body they find themselves in.

The question of personal identity is an important one, because it has far-reaching implications. If a person commits a crime and becomes literally a different person later, we can't justly hold the new person responsible for the crime. Thankfully, we have very strong intuitions that we retain our identity throughout our entire lives -- when I think back to when I was a kid, I can be confident that those really were my parents and it really was my school that I attended, not a similar person whose memories I now have and thinks myself to be the original. So it seems that whatever view of personal identity we hold, it has to account for the fact that we retain our identity throughout our entire lives.

Many people (including philosophers) tend to believe that a person is the sum total of all of one's memories and personal experiences. But this doesn't seem correct, since it doesn't account for who, exactly, is the subject of our experiences. Plus, I was still "me" even at the points in my life that I can't remember, or before I was able to form memories. As philosopher Peter Kreeft wrote in his book Heaven: The Heart's Deepest Longing, Expanded Edition (Ignatius Press, San Francisco, CA, 1989, p. 176), "The only thing whose presence can make an all-encompassing difference, a difference to everything in my life, to something not contained by but containing my life. That's me. I am the constant amid millions of variables that make up my life. All my experiences are not X or Y or Z, but all my experiences are mine. Each experience is 'I experiencing X and Y in way Z'. X, Y, and Z are the variables: I am the constant."

There are many drastic changes we go through from the time that we are conceived until now, but all of these changes are identity-preserving changes. My five-year-old self and my present-day self are drastically different: I am several feet taller, I have gone through puberty, I have gained many more and new experiences, my skin cells have died and been replaced, I am now able to engage in higher thought, etc. Yet that was still "me."

But the problem with science fiction scenarios is that we can only speculate regarding them -- we cannot test them, empirically. There may come a time when it becomes scientifically possible to transfer someone's brain into a machine and have them continue to live, or it may never happen because it's simply not possible to do. You could transplant the brain but the person may not survive the transplant. In fact, if all we are is a sum total of our memories and experiences, then if our brain is transplanted, how do we know the original person hasn't died? What we may be left with is a similar (but different) entity, with all of the original person's thoughts, experiences, and memories, believing himself to be the original.

As a Christian, I believe that what accounts for my continuity of existence through all points in my life is the soul, and I believe that our continuity of existence is evidence for the soul. I think that trying to adopt an alternate view regarding personal identity and personhood leads to many absurdities. I can't remember what it was like to be an embryo, but that was certainly "me" in my mother's womb. I can look back and say there was a time in which my mother was pregnant with me, and "I" was born.

*Allons-y is a French phrase which means "let's go!" It's a phrase that the Tenth Doctor repeated often.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Arguing Over Terms [Clinton Wilcox]

Recently I was involved in an on-line discussion (it was more of an argument, really) regarding whether pro-life people should be using the term "unborn" in our discussion or "preborn" exclusively. The short answer is it really doesn't matter what terms you use. Arguing over terms is really just unhelpful -- it's best to use terms that both sides are comfortable with so that you can get on with the real discussion: abortion is immoral because the procedure kills an innocent human being. Arguing over terms is not helpful.

To make matters worse, I've even been told it's immoral to use the word "unborn" over the word "preborn," because the word "unborn" is an incorrect term and if you can save more children by using the term "preborn" over "unborn," then it would be immoral to use the term "unborn." But there is no possible way someone can support the proposition that using one term will save more children than the other. The reality is that everyone knows what we mean when we use the term "unborn." Most people may not understand what you mean when you say "preborn" because it's not a word that comes up very often, except usually from a pro-life person.

I sometimes do use the term "preborn." After all, the prefix "pre-" means "before." So "preborn" literally means "before birth." Pre- denotes movement, to me. Conversely, the prefix "un-" just means "not," so "unborn" literally means "not born." It's still a correct term, but it conjures up an image of stagnation to me, as if it's unborn and will remain that way unless acted upon. So I sometimes use "preborn" just because it conjures an image of the children progressing toward birth. But either term is correct, and using the term "preborn" may actually require more time because I have to explain what I mean by it, whereas anyone will know what I mean by "unborn."

So that's an even longer answer to say it really doesn't matter which term we use. Arguing over which term is better is an argument that we really shouldn't be engaging in, because it detracts from the overall issue: we are working to end abortion because it kills innocent human children. Arguing over terms is beside the point.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

A Lament Regarding Pro-Choice Bloggers [Clinton Wilcox]

There's a one-sidedness when it comes to abortion blogs. I see many pro-life bloggers who are using the science and philosophy well to support their position. And then when I look up pro-choice blogs, I usually see the following: "Hey, look at what this stupid anti-choicer just said [provides link]. This is bull!" Then they completely ignore all the evidence presented by said pro-lifer and high-five each other on how rational and logical they're being.

I'm serious. Go search out blogs about abortion and see the differences for yourself.

This makes it difficult for me to respond to pro-choice bloggers because I constantly feel like I'm going after the lowest hanging fruit of the pro-choice side. But I really don't have a choice, unless I want to respond to the academic writers (which I do, as well, but as a blogger I enjoy interacting with others in the blogosphere). I'm a big believer in the fact that if your position is the correct one, it can withstand the strongest objections of the other side.

So when I come across a reasonable pro-choice advocate, who talks about the need for information regarding the risks of abortion being needed, I feel it's worth pointing out. My friend Jonathon Van Maren, of Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform, has interviewed a pro-choice columnist, Barbara Kay, who writes for the National Post, a Canadian publication. You can read the transcript here. You can also find the link to the interview there.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Fallacy Monday: Non Sequitur [Clinton Wilcox]

Follow the following links to the different parts in this series: Introduction, Ad Hominem, Strawman, Begging the Question, Slippery Slope, and Equivocation.

The term "non sequitur" is a Latin term that simply means "it does not follow." A non sequitur is committed when an argument does not follow logically from its premises. This is obviously fallacious since in order for an argument to succeed, it must be both valid and sound (see the introduction for a refresher on the difference).

Let's take the following argument, that I found at this linked site: Maria drives a car. Maria must be rich. But it obviously doesn't follow from the fact alone that Maria drives a car that she must be rich. Perhaps she is poor but was given the car as a gift.

Here are a couple of examples of Non Sequiturs:

An argument a pro-life person might make would be: The only reason someone would be pro-choice is because they hate babies. But that doesn't follow at all: there may be some pro-choice people who hate babies, but one does not have to hate babies to be pro-choice. Many pro-choice people don't believe the unborn human being to be a baby, and some believe that it is a baby but that the mother's right to bodily autonomy trumps the child's right to life.

An argument a pro-choice person might make is: the unborn are not valuable because they cannot breathe on their own. But again, this doesn't follow. People on life support are still human, even though they can't breathe on their own (whether or not they have a good chance of recovery). The fact that someone is more dependent does not give us grounds to treat that person any way we wish. In fact, some might say that someone being more dependent gives us a greater obligation to care for that person.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Did Washington Post Check the Science? [Clinton Wilcox]

So Republican Senator Marco Rubio is in the public consciousness right now for some comments he made about the scientific consensus being that life begins at conception. This is true, but I'll get there in a moment. The Washington Post, taking Rubio as his word, decided to take him up on that challenge. Or at least they think they did. Now, Rubio's comments came after a question he was given regarding climate change. It is beyond the scope of this article to talk about that topic or Rubio's comments regarding it.

Now, it is scientific fact that human life begins at fertilization. Geneticist Jerome LeJeune, in a Tennessee divorce court in 1989, called in as an expert for a debate over frozen embryos, remarked "...I would say that science has a very simple conception of man; as soon as he has been conceived, a man is a man." In fact, embryologists consistently agree that human life begins at fertilization. In 1933, Alan Guttmacher (past president of Planned Parenthood) wrote the following: "We of today know that man is born of sexual union; that he starts life as an embryo within the body of the female; and that the embryo is formed from the fusion of two single cells, the ovum and the sperm. This all seems to simple and evident to us that it is difficult to picture a time when it was not part of the common knowledge" (from Life in the Making: The Story of Human Procreation, New York: Viking Press, 1933, p. 3, emphases his). In fact, from the official Senate report from the Subcommittee on Separation of Powers to the Senate Judiciary Committee S-158 (Report, 97th Congress, 1st Session, 1981), it was stated: "Physicians, biologists, and other scientists agree that conception marks the beginning of the life of a human being -- a being that is alive and is a member of the human species. There is overwhelming agreement on this point in countless medical, biological, and scientific writings." A prominent physician points out that at these Senate hearings, "Pro-abortionists, though invited to do so, failed to produce even a single expert witness who would specifically testify that life begins at any point other than conception or implantation. Only one witness said no one can tell when life begins" (Landrum Shettles and David Rorvik, Rites of Life: The Scientific Evidence of Life Before Birth (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1983), p. 113).

So yes, there is overwhelming scientific consensus that human life begins at fertilization. I have actually asked several pro-choice people to find me just one embryologist who disagrees and no one so far has been able to meet my challenge. And to be clear, I'm talking about embryologists, the experts on human embryos. Not scientists like PZ Myers who is either just not a very good biologist or is just incredibly dishonest.

In order to "look at the science" on the abortion issue, Philip Bump, the author of the Washington Post article, reached out to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. This was the statement they returned to him: "Government agencies and American medical organizations agree that the scientific definition of pregnancy and the legal definition of pregnancy are the same: pregnancy begins upon the implantation of a fertilized egg into the lining of a woman's uterus. This typically takes place, if at all, between 5 and 9 days after fertilization of the egg -- which itself can take place over the course of several days following sexual intercourse."

Now I don't know what question Bump used to ask regarding this. But notice that ACOG didn't answer the question. Why is this? Bump asserts it's because there really is no scientific consensus on when human life begins, but that's obviously not true as I have shown above. It's because ACOG is a pro-abortion organization. So they have a vested interest in using flowery language, such as when pregnancy beings, to muddy the waters so that they don't give the impression to the general American public that they are supporting the deaths of unborn human children. They were being purposefully vague and misleading.

I have no problem with the definition of pregnancy beginning at implantation. But even if this is the case, that doesn't prove that the unborn are not human before that point. There is nothing about the act of implanting in the womb that would suddenly bestow humanity to the unborn child. But even if we take the ACOG's statement, this would still show that since pregnancy begins roughly a week after fertilization, all abortions past that point do, in fact, kill a human being.

So I applaud the Washington Post's desire to check the science for themselves. What I disprove of is that apparently they have no idea how research is done. Considering their shoddy research in this area, how can we possibly trust any of their other articles have been thoroughly fact-checked?

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Who is Misrepresenting Whom? [Clinton Wilcox]

My friend Kristine Kruszelnicki of Pro-Life Humanists fairly recently posted an article to Hemant Mehta's blog ("The Friendly Atheist") making a secular case for abortion. Since then, irrational atheists (note: I'm not calling all atheists irrational, I'm speaking of only the atheists who have responded to this article, in articles of their own or in the comments) have been illustrating that atheism isn't so much about free thinking as it is dogmatism. Ironic, no? Apparently one cannot be pro-life and an atheist. Any atheist who is pro-life must, apparently by definition, be religious in disguise, an accusation I see hurled at Secular Pro-Life pretty often.

That article has also spawned many diatribes against the pro-life position. This article is just one of many. In this article, the author, Ophelia Benson, asserts that pro-life people are misusing a quote from Peter Singer. The irony here is that they misrepresent SPL by calling us liars and cheaters, while accusing us of misrepresenting Singer's view. But there is no misrepresentation here on our part. Here is the quote that we use:

"It is possible to give ‘human being’ a precise meaning. We can use it as equivalent to ‘member of the species Homo Sapiens.’ Whether a being is a member of a given species is something that can be determined scientifically, by an examination of the nature of the chromosomes in the cells of living organisms. In this sense there is no doubt that from the first moments of its existence an embryo conceived from human sperm and eggs is a human being.” (Peter Singer, Practical Ethics, 2nd ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), pp.85-86.)

Peter Singer is saying exactly what we say he is saying: the unborn are biological human beings, one of us, from fertilization. This is just a recent case in which pro-choice people conflate philosophy and science. There is a difference between a human being in the genetic sense and a human being in the moral sense. Singer is making a statement toward the former (the genetic sense), and that is why we use his quote, among others. Because despite the fact that many pro-choice people do accept that the unborn are living human beings, we still encounter people who argue against this simple and evident biological reality.

I personally own and have read Singer's book. I try to make it a policy to see the quotes I use in the context of the work it appears in and not rely on third-party quotations. So Benson's statement that we need to include the rest of the quote or we're cheating is simply ridiculous. The rest is not relevant and quoting the rest would not fundamentally alter Singer's meaning. In fact, including the rest of the quote only works in our favor: "...and the same is true of the most profoundly and irreparably intellectually disabled human being, even of an infant who is born anencephalic -- literally, without a brain."

So Benson tries to nitpick the punctuation used (Singer's sentence ends in a semicolon, not a period), so at most she could accuse pro-life advocates of not being careful enough. We should end with an elipsis ("...") instead of a period, since the sentence does continue. But nothing is changed by leaving that out.

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